The Story of WITS at 30

Posted December 3, 2013 & filed under Notebook.

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In commemoration of Writers in the Schools‘ 30th anniversary, Bright Sky Press published Plant a Story, a book celebrating WITS at 30. It contains student writing, testimonials by Houston leaders, and photography documenting the program. Edited by Weezie Mackey, the author of Throwing Like a Girl, the new publication celebrates the achievements of Houston’s #1 arts organization. Get your copy when you make a recurring donation of $10 a month by clicking the link for Giving Tuesday.

Young Authors @ the Menil Community Arts & Houston Indie Book Festival

Posted April 17, 2013 & filed under Notebook.

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Please join us this Saturday, April 20th, at noon to support young authors at the annual Writers in the Schools BLOOMS reading event.  BLOOMS is part of the Houston Young Writers Reading Series, and these young writers were chosen from thousands of children across the city of Houston.  Children in grades K-12 will read original poems, stories, and essays on the lawn of the Menil Collection. Please clap loudly for these brave voices!

We invite you to bring a blanket and a lawn chair and spend the entire afternoon with us enjoying poetry, music, film, and yoga at this festival for the whole family. For more information about the festival and a timeline of events, please visit the Menil Collection website.  See you at 12 noon on Saturday!

Horse Barn

Posted April 26, 2012 & filed under Poem of the Day.


When we get there

the horses in their stalls

paw the dirt.

I cough in the dust.

We grab the feed,

and they whinny at me

when I pass by.

I get a brush; very tenderly

I scrape off the dirt.

They are as dusty and steamy

as a train when it chugs

down the track.

When we feed the mares,

their babies skip after us.

They run so fast

they fall.

by Isabella, 3rd grade

Click the link (above) to listen to the poem read on KPFT radio by Gabriel Arnold, a 4th grade student at Parker Elementary in Houston.

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This poem is featured as part of the 2012 A Poem A Day campaign, a National Poetry Month celebration by Writers in the Schools (WITS) that features a different poem by a WITS student every day during April. Click here to learn more.

Attend the Museum Educators Open House Jan 22nd

Posted January 21, 2011 & filed under Notebook.

Join Writers in the Schools (WITS) at this year’s Museum Educators Open House January 22, 2011 from 9:00 A.M. – 1:00 P.M. WITS will demonstrate  innovative approaches to teaching creative writing.  Come visit our booth at the Museum of Natural Science for giveaways and learn more about getting a WITS program at your school.  This free program will be offered along with a variety of presentations and exhibitions designed for school educators, and attendees will be eligible to receive up to three hours of Continuing Education credits (CPE). Click here to register. Made possible by the Houston Museum District.

I Have a Voice

Posted November 9, 2010 & filed under Notebook.

Harriet Riley, a free-lance writer focusing on nonfiction and grant writing, is teaching her third year at WITS

As WITS writers, we all use weekly rituals with our students – Author’s Chairs, Power Writing, Writers Toolboxes and more. This year I’ve started a new and powerful ritual to end each class. The credit for this tool goes completely to Michele Kotler and Community Word Project who participated our August orientation workshop.

At the close of each session with my students, after I foreshadow the next week’s activities, we chant together: “I have a voice. My voice is powerful. My voice can change the world.”

This has become an important ritual with my sixth graders at Briarmeadow Charter School. It started as a call and response. I said a line and the students repeated it. But last week, my sixth visit to the school, I noticed that the students chanted the words along with me, ending with a rousing “MY VOICE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.” They say it, and they believe it. I see it in their writing as they relate their belief in their own power. Their words are strong and fearless.

We recently completed a poem based on George Ella Lyons’ “Where I’m From.” Like most teachers, I learn the names of the “louder” students first. There was one particular student that I hadn’t really taken the time to get to know – she was quiet and well behaved and hadn’t done anything to stand out in class. Also she was one of four girls in my two classes with the same first name. She had wire-rimmed glasses that hid her face, always wore her hair straight back in a tight ponytail and didn’t smile too much. She had written a very rough draft of her “Where I’m From” poem the previous week that needed a lot of revision. As I was walking among the students during our re-write time, I stood shock still when I saw her work. I read it to myself.

This is Where I’m From

By Mariam, 7th grade

I am from an endless path that runs into sunset.

I am from the jasmines blooming.

I am from the buzz of a busy bee.

I am from the bustling, bizarre crowds of a city.

I am from the sweet taste of sugarcane.

I am from the sound of the wolf howling at the moon.

I am from the sound of the guitar’s gentle strum.

I am from the laughter of children playing outside in the blazing hot sun.

I am from the waves crashing against each other at the sandy beach.

I am from the silent scent of goodness in the cool air.

I am from the enchantment of love.

I am from the creak of a stable door being opened from above.

I am nothing less then a kick of dust.

I am nothing more than a big blizzard.

I am a child who races the dark night.

Who was the girl who wrote these strong and powerful words and what lay beneath her polite surface? She had some deep, world-changing things to say and I almost missed her. I will definitely be getting to know her in the year ahead and much more about my students because they WILL change the world. Sometimes taking the time to state the obvious – “I have a voice” – and turning it into a cheer can make a difference and actually empower students to use earth-shaking, world-changing words.

by Harriet Riley, Writers in the Schools

WITS Writer Harriet Riley is a free-lance writer focusing on nonfiction articles and grant writing. She has taught undergraduate writing classes at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, where she lived for 11 years before moving to Houston in 2007. She has also worked as a non-profit director, hospital marketing director, and newspaper reporter. She has her M.A. in print journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and her B.A. in English and journalism from the University of Mississippi. She enjoys reading, running, and traveling with her family. This is her third year with WITS.

WITS Welcomes Visitors to Houston

Posted August 26, 2010 & filed under Notebook.

Today WITS welcomes seventeen colleagues from across the US for the first WITS Alliance National Conclave. The group will meet for three days in downtown Houston.

The participants are:

Jim Walker, Second Story Indianapolis

Janet Hurley, True Ink, Asheville, NC

Megan McNamer, Missoula Writing Collaborative, Montana

Jeanine Walker, Seattle Arts & Lectures

Michele Kotler and Keith Kaminski, Community Word Project, New York City

Janice Hatfield and Krystia Nora, California University of Pennsylvania

Josephine Jones, Colorado Writers in the Schools

Kristine Uyeda and Alise Alouisi, InsideOut, Detroit MI

Nicole Robinson, The Wick Center for Poetry, Kent State University, Ohio

Sean Nevin and Renee Simms, Young Writers Program, Arizona State University

Terry Thaxton, Literary Arts Partnership, University of Central Florida

Cecily Sailor and Giuseppe Taurino, Badgerdog, Austin, TX

For more information about this event, click here.

Photo Credit: Jenn Edo Photography, Houston